2015 – The Year of the Gear.

nb – apologies for the lack of pictures to make my boring writing more interesting. For some reason I am unable to add any media to this post due to (apparently) an annoying HTTP error(?) If I resolve this issue, I will add some images later. Sorry!

December 30th, 2015. I suppose the purpose of this blog is to round up the running year that was 2015. It’s not really about the kit as such, although I keep threatening to write about that, it was more that ‘gear’ rhymed with ‘year’ and sounded more snappy than ‘2015 review’. (So, pretty much a lie just for the sake of hoping you might carry on reading.)

Anyway, as usual, it is over two months since my last post so, before rounding off my year, a brief running update is required.

I have finally gone into ‘end-of-year-taper’ mode after a fairly full on 12 months. By mid-October I was suffering pretty much constant pain in my right heel and foot from planter fasciitis, caused by not replacing my longer mileage training shoe and therefore doing all my running in my Adidas Boston Boost – a superb race trainer but simply not built for everyday use by a heel-striking flat-footer like myself.  I should have rested earlier, but had two races penned in for late October/early November so persevered with the training until then. (Clearly, this is NOT the advisable course of action – treat this as a cautionary tale rather than an injury advice training plan!) The two races were, however, hugely successful personally, highlighting my level of fitness at that time.

The Standish Hall Trail Race – Saturday 31st October.

This is my most local of local races. A twice yearly event held only a mile up the road on farm tracks and muddy woodland trails. The course is almost exactly 10km long and is an approximate figure of 8 up-and-down a steepish hillside. I have entered the race on several previous occasions and therefore can use it as an accurate barometer of my current level of performance. My previous best was 42 minutes which, at the time, was good enough for 10th place. The field is never more than 250 runners, often less, which gives a really intimate atmosphere to proceedings.

I wrote a review of the race for the Wigan Harriers website, so rather than totally re-write the same thing again, please click on the link below to read my report:

https://wiganharriersendurance.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/standish-hall-trail-race-3/

You are forgiven if you couldn’t be bothered clicking that! To summarise, I ran into a really satisfying (and fairly surprising!) 4th place. Only 78 raced on the day; a local parkrun had had its inaugural event that morning, reducing the field for this race, but I was still delighted with 4th. Logging 40mins 13secs for a hilly, muddy 10K was also pleasing.

The only thing to add to my public recount above is to add a personal footnote:

The race date of 31st October was quite an emotive one.

Firstly, it was the one year anniversary of tragically losing Alisha Bartolini at 18 years of age to Meningitis. (Please see all my previous blogs for more details / fundraising etc.)

Secondly, I had received further tragic news just the day before. Iestyn Keir, a 12 year-old former pupil of my school and child of a work colleague, had suddenly and tragically died just hours after a cycling event the previous weekend. To say this was a shock was an understatement. Iestyn was such a great lad who, unusually for a child of his age, shared my passion for endurance sporting persuits. I loved listening to his cycling news and would share in-depth, analytical  discussions of any cycling Grand Tours taking place at the time.

My mind was therefore awash with thoughts on the start line of the tragedy of young lives cut short, the never-ending pain this causes to the families concerned and, personally, a renewed determination to live life to the full at each and every opportunity.

With these tragedies at the forefront of my mind, I had therefore pre-determined that I was going to absolutely flog myself into the ground on this run and attack from the start. My normal conservative race start went out of the window and no-doubt contributed to finding myself in the leading pack. Everytime I felt my effort levels waning or my pace drop, I thought of Iestyn hammering up a climb on his bike (his favourite cycling discipline) and put the hammer down as hard as I was physically capable.

I crossed the line absolutely spent. If Alisha had pushed me round 110K in June, then Iestyn certainly dragged me round this course. I hope they were both watching.

One positive outcome of racing so well was my first ever running prize! I was 2nd Vet & 2nd Vet40 in the race but, as the leading Vet was the actual race winner, I was promoted to 1st place Vet and won £20 of vouchers for the local running shop ‘The Endurance Store’ – result!

Lakeland Trails Helvellyn Race, Glenridding – Saturday 7th November.

The following Saturday saw us travel to the Lake District for our final Lakeland Trails series event of the year. We were particularly excited to return to Glenridding as it held such fond memories for us from the summer Ultra. The girls, my parents and in-laws had surprised me in the village by coming to support me at the breakfast feed station.

To say the weather conditions were slightly different is an understatement! In summer we had enjoyed beautiful early morning sunshine with temperatures already on the rise; in November the forecast was apocalyptic rain. (A forecast that would become all too common for the entire month which followed, projecting Glenridding to national prominence just a month later, when flash floods wreaked havoc.)

The forecast was such that we considered not attending – not so much for Leanne and myself, who were more than prepared to confront the conditions. More for Hannah and Nancy (aged 8 and 4) who, we thought, might not be too keen on standing in a field for a whole day in dreadful conditions. However, we delved deep into our rucksacks in the loft and found full waterproofs that fit both girls  – so off we set. (Hannah may disagree that the full-sized adult waterproofs fit her, but it was nothing that a bit of rolling-up at waist and ankles didn’t sort!)

We were glad we made the effort as, despite the weather, we enjoyed an absolutely fantastic day out. The girls absolutely loved being given free license to jump in every puddle available, (there were many!) Leanne loved the liberating experience of heading into the hills in conditions where you would normally retire to the hotel bar for the day, and I ran another blinder to finish in 12th place despite again performing my ‘Bambi-on-Ice’ impression on every slippery descent!

We then retired to the shelter of the event marquee to enjoy our final Pete Lashley gig of the year – he even played Hannah’s request of Jacob’s Creek for her! We thanked the event director Graham Patten and his team; the events are such a focal point of our family life now and obviously played a major role in our year. We wished him luck for the final event the following day which we couldn’t attend – again in Glenridding. As it turned out, he would need that luck as the weather was even worse the next day! The planned Ullswater ferry crossings had to be cancelled meaning a cleverly arranged back-up route had to be set up on the morning!

Once again I send my thanks and seasonal greetings to Graham and the entire Lakeland Trails team – we already cannot wait for Cartmel in March!

Perhaps more importantly though, we send our best wishes to everyone in the Lakes, and indeed much closer to home in Lancashire and Yorkshire, who have suffered so terribly in the recent rains and ensuing floods. To see places so close to our hearts suffer such devastation has been really upsetting. Of the six Lakeland Trail venues in the year, three (Staveley, Keswick and Glenridding) have suffered such damage that sections of the actual race routes are currently impassable. These will possibly be repaired by the time we visit in the New Year, but the damage to people’s homes and livelihoods will continue long into the future. Good luck to everyone involved; our thoughts are with you.

Mid-Lancs Cross Country League, Sefton Park, Liverpool – Saturday 28th November.

As there were three weeks between Glenridding and Liverpool, I took two weeks completely off running to rest my sore foot. I resumed some light running in the week leading up to the Sefton Park event. Although a Mid-Lancs league event for our club, this race was much bigger than that. Both the Men’s and Women’s races were also U23 European Championship qualifiers, meaning that there was a National element to the field (at U23 level at least!) and a couple of other local leagues also in attendance at the event, swelling not only numbers of participants but also increasing the quality of the competition.

I arrived at Sefton Park on another wet and windy afternoon. I know the area well having lived on the nearby Penny Lane for three years during my student days. I was greeted by large crowds, lots of super-fit, sleek looking national standard athletes and commentary on the races booming across the park from well known BBC athletics commentator Paul Dickenson. (I hope I’ve got the right commentator there, it was over a month ago – it was the guy who normally does the field events for BBC at the big championships!) It took quite a while just to find the Wigan Harriers tent and my team mates!

This was the first race when I was at a genuine disadvantage not yet possessing cross country spikes. By the time the Men’s race began, large sections of the course had been reduced to slippery, slushy mud. I skated down the start hill and only really regained my footing for the uphill sections. Ploughing through the deep mud was not a problem – everyone slips in that! It was the treacherous surface mud which was the problem, forcing me to the outside of most bends of the course in search of traction. The effort of this constant slipping and sliding reduced my legs to jelly by the third lap and I was clinging on for dear life as the finish straight was finally reached.

I was totally stunned to find I completed the 6.15 miles in 39 minutes 53 seconds! If you had asked me on crossing the line I would have said that it felt around 43/44 minute pace. It certainly felt like I had been running a long time! Still, the watch and the final results don’t lie, so I was more than happy with that – and a top-half placing of 278th in a high-quality field of 577 finishers was also pleasing.

December…

Even after a good 17 days off it was clear my foot was no better than it was before, so I resigned myself to having the final month of the year off. By mid December I was feeling some improvement so I used my Endurance Store vouchers to purchase a new pair of more cushioned distance trainers. I have only worn my Brooks Glycerin four times to date but the fact that my foot feels better for running in them than it did before tells me that I have made a good choice.

Thanks, as ever, to the staff at the Endurance Store, and Tim Pilkington at Wigan Harriers, for support and advice during purchase, (including quite a bit of time on their tread mill in different shoes.) If you live anywhere near Appley Bridge, Wigan, get down to the Endurance Store – they will point you in the right direction and won’t try to sell you a product they don’t believe in.

There is time for one last little running outing tomorrow but I have surpassed my goals for 2015. Yesterday’s run took me over the 1200 mile mark for this year. I wanted to exceed a 100 miles-per-month average and, considering I have missed over 8 weeks of the year with injury or enforced rest, I am delighted to do so. I will have trained in some form on 143 occasions – over 3 times a week for the time I have been fit to train in. I will still be aiming to beat both these totals in 2016, though! Obviously the main aim was to complete the Ultra, but to do it unscathed and unscarred was especially satisfying.

So what’s changed in 2015?

  1. Well, my shoerack for a start! – At the start of the year I possessed two pairs of trainers; one road, one trail. I now possess four pairs of trainers, (all purchased this year, the original two pairs are long gone!) I have two pairs of road shoes – Brooks Glycerin for everyday training and longer distances, Adidas Boston Boost for races and short, sharp stuff. I also own two pairs of trail shoes – Hoka One Ones, the super-cushioned long distance comfort shoe for long runs on firmer ground, and Adidas Adizero Raven Boost for muddier trail conditions and shorter, faster work. Ridiculously I really need to purchase some cross country spikes too which would push my footwear count to five. But sanity (and finances!) dictate that I may try and blag my way through this winter and pick those up next year!
  2. My kit drawer! – Where once my running drawer would be opened to find clothing consisting of nothing more than a couple of pairs of shorts, a pair of Ron Hill bottoms and a couple of t-shirts – now there are long sleeves, shorts sleeves, compression tops, fully waterproof jackets, running tights, waterproof bottoms, Injinji socks with toes in (try them, you’d be surprised!), running specific caps, buffs, sunglasses, two-layered running shorts… and on and on and on. That’s not including the running backpack, headtorches (2), various water bottles, survival bag, energy gels etc. It cost a bit, but I use it all – a lot! It all works too, (thanks again Endurance Store!) so I haven’t wasted any money on pointless, poor performing rubbish or things that I don’t need. Oh, and I had to move my stuff into a much bigger drawer!
  3. My base level of fitness – I have looked back at my starting point of January 2015 and the routes I was running. 10/11 mile trail runs around Ashurst Beacon and Parbold Hill were considered major expeditions 12 months ago. Now they are bog standard trot outs used as recovery runs or hill climbing practice. I am starting 2016 out in a position of such strength in comparison.
  4. Wigan Harriers – This was certainly an unexpected development in 2015! I had no intention of joining a club and, if I had considered it, it wouldn’t have been Harriers. I have at least two little clubs on my doorstep that I could reach without the need of a car. However, opportunity knocked after the Wigan 10k, and I received the gentle shove I needed to get involved. (Thanks, Mike!) Unfortunately time commitments, personal race commitments and, finally, injury niggles have meant that I haven’t really been able to properly throw myself in yet – I have probably only managed to train with them five or six times! However, I really enjoy it, have met some lovely people and plan to get involved far more next year.
  5. PBs – I expected to thrash my marathon PB and did so, despite not quite breaking 3.15. (I will sort those 54 seconds out sometime in the future!) I was not expecting to run 38.13 in the 10k and this was a genuine shock to me. The thought of going under 38 minutes was something I would have considered super-human a couple of years ago but is now a genuine target.
  6. Fundraising social-media style – Having never raised money for charity before, it was stunning just how easy social-media makes it these days. I hate asking for money so just never did it. But it was fantastic to be able to raise £2500 pounds for Meningitis Now and I am so grateful to people for their support and generosity.
  7. Becoming ULTRA – Obviously, this was the aim of the year and I was delighted with the way it panned out. I learned so much and was grateful that any slight misfortune I suffered occurred during training and not the race! Even the Lake District weather, so poor on both the day before and after the race, was absolutely perfect! A magical day!

2016 and beyond.

So what next? Well, I have a few things booked in and a few general ideas!

  1. Beat 1200 miles and 143 training sessions – You’ve always got to try and be better than the year before!
  2. Lakeland Trails 110k Ultra – I’ve entered again. I’d like to go faster! Clearly though, there is a lot of luck involved. First I need to be fit enough to be faster, so I need to avoid injury. Secondly, and more importantly, I will need good conditions on race day again; never a given in the Lakes! The course could be 3K longer if route permission is given on stage 4, where we had to cut a corner to avoid a farm this year. But I have a plan of attack, and it would be great to go under 17 hours! A friend of mine from the Thunder Run team has entered and we hope to get up to the Lakes a couple of times to run some of the course beforehand.
  3. 100 miles? – It’s the next natural progression after the Lakes 110k. I need to properly research the events to find one suitable for a debut at such a distance, and that may mean I have already missed entry deadlines for the 2016 events. So this target is more of a two year thing, but something I am going to have to attempt in the future.
  4. Half marathon PB – I haven’t run an official half marathon for three years so I know I can absolutely slaughter my current PB of 1.33. I’d be looking to knock a good six minutes off, so need to find a good course in early 2016.
  5. Cross Trainer & Core Exercises – We have a cross trainer in our conservatory. A pretty good one too. Most of the time it’s used for drying wet running gear. When I have injuries I use it as the starting point to getting out running again. I also use core strength exercises when injured. However, as soon as I am fit enough to go out and run again, these go out of the window. Yet I fully understand and appreciate the benefits of both cross and core training, so 2016 is the year that I make them a regular part of my training program and try not to just obsess about miles covered.
  6. Diet – Surely I can eat a bit more sensibly than I currently do? I dine out (literally!) on the premise that I can eat what I want because I burn it off, (my current weight and body shape would prove that this is largely true!) However, could there be marginal gains to be had in eating better to refuel and repair properly? No doubt there could. I need to at least try. (I won’t be turning Vegan though, despite just about every Ultra legend in the world doing it!)
  7. Blog – Try and post more regularly. Get this bloomin’ picture problem sorted. Learn how you can leave messages at the bottom of posts. Learn how to use possessive apostrophes properly! (Very embarrassing for a teacher!)
  8. Charity – Unfortunately, due to another unwanted tragedy, there is now another charity that I would quite like to support. Iestyn’s family have been raising money for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and you can find information at the following site dedicated to Iestyn:

http://iestyn.keir.muchloved.com/

I don’t know what I will do yet, but it would be nice to support in some way. I will also continue to support Meningitis Now; information on this charity can be found on the site dedicated to the memory of Alisha:

http://alisha-bartolini.muchloved.com/

 So that just about wraps up this year. Thanks for reading this post and any others you may have read through the year. Thanks if you contributed financially to the fund-raising. Thanks if you have supported my running in any way this year, (an exhaustive list of these people can be found in my last post!)

Finally, I hope you all have a fantastic 2016. Whatever it is you were thinking of doing ‘sometime’ in the future; be it physical activity, a holiday, visiting friends, taking up a hobby or just planning on spending more time outdoors whatever the weather (this would be a good one – do this one!) start planning to do it immediately!

Get out there and live life! Do it now! Quick!!!

Me? I’m going to pop out for a quick run…

footnote – as I proofread this post, the radio has just reported that the road between Pooley Bridge and Glenridding is closed again as Storm Frank blows over. Stay safe out there, and best wishes to those battling yet more floods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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